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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Snow White & The Huntsman: How to tell a fairy story.

I'm taking a small break from our regularly scheduled Avengers overanalysis to bring you some LADIES IN ARMOUR.
Today Florence + The Machine released their theme song/music video for Snow White & The Huntsman. I'm not really a Florence fan, but this video is just TOO GOOD FOR ME TO COPE WITH because it combines clips from the (completely awesome-looking) Snow White trailer with war drums and dramatic Valkyrie wailing and somehow, somehow... I am totally sold. After listening to this song and rewatching the trailer, not only am I 100% prepared to declare Kristen Stewart my Khaleesi For Life, but I'm also convinced that I've somehow regressed to the age of 11 because OMG new feminist role-model. Which is slightly embarrassing because I just googled Kristen Stewart and it turns out she's several months younger than I am. But what can I do? I've already sworn fealty. I'm taking up my spear and following Snow White into battle. And so are you.

Can I just say how awesome it is that they've made a freaking war movie out of a fairytale that's popularly known as the story of a bitter old lady who poisons a girl for being prettier than she is? In these trailers we see Snow White being betrayed and abandoned and strong and sliding through the mud and LEADING AN ARMY. The thing that blows me away the most -- more than the Guillermo Del Toro-esque troll creatures; more than Charlize Theron's fabulous costumes -- is the fact that Snow White is a passionate warrior. The #1 flaw in action/adventure movies is that their protagonists run the risk of ending up as two-dimensional badasses. A lot of the time the emotional hook just isn't truthful enough to engage audiences outside of the basic demographic of "people who like to watch things blow up". Which, by the way, isn't a criticism of that demographic because I fully intend to watch any and all Die Hard sequels, even if they rate 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and consist of a 76-year-old Bruce Willis standing in front of a blue-screen and yelling nonsensical one-liners while people frantically Photoshop burning cars into the background.
Not gonna lie: I basically want both of their outfits to wear in real life.
But Kristen Stewart's Snow White isn't just a badass. During every action clip included in those trailers, you can see the desperation and determination on her face. You feel -- or at least I felt -- a genuine desire to find out why she's having to fight, rather than just treating the fight clips as a sort of placeholder code for "this film includes battle scenes". Is this what movies are like in a post-Game Of Thrones world? We can only hope. 

Unusually for me and my habit of nerding out over behind-the-scenes details, I don't actually know much about SW&TH. And in contrast with more specifically geek-oriented films like Prometheus or the Avengers franchise, I don't really feel that info-dumping is even necessary. Unlike Tarsem's visually wonderful but otherwise unappealing Mirror Mirror earlier this year, the marketing for SW&TH has managed the ideal maneuver for a fairytale adaptation: they've made a familiar story seem intriguing without changing it so much that it seems unrecognisable.
These days, movies based on well-known myths tend to go one of two ways: egregious levels of grittiness, or tongue-in-cheek parody. This follows the same mould as superhero movies, wherein the Batman myth evolves from Adam West cartoonishness to Christopher Nolan's apparent belief that as long as you include enough shots of grim Chicago skyscrapers in the rain, you can make a 100% "realistic" urban epic about people who dress up in pleather catsuits in order to fight crime. For me, gritty superhero adaptations can sometimes work, but gritty fairytales? Not so much. Just look at Russell Crowe's Robin Hood, which removed everything that was ever charming or appealing about Robin Hood and replaced it with endless footage of Russell Crowe glaring at mud. The greatest source of tension in that movie was me desperately waiting for Russell Crowe to take a bath because he clearly smelled so bad, but that never happened. Even when Cate Blanchett's servants poured him a bath he just splashed some of the water on his face and was like, "well, I guess that takes care of all the Saracen blood I've accrued over the past decade of war-mongering". HE NEVER DID TAKE THAT BATH, YOU GUYS.
This is literally the cleanest he ever is in this entire movie.
(Oh, and another thing that bugged me about that movie was that all the supposed realism was meant to add a "historical" edge to the mostly-fictional Robin Hood we know and love, except none of the history was remotely accurate. As in, the film ended with -- spoiler alert for a movie you definitely shouldn't see! -- Robin Hood revealing that his dad wrote the Magna Carta and Cate Blanchett leading an army of tree-dwelling orphan boys to fight off a French invasion on a beach in Dover. For realsies.)
"But Hello, Tailor!" you may (possibly) be asking. "Snow White & The Huntsman looks like it's all about muddy people in nonspecifically medieval armour as well! How can you say it's going to be any better than Russell Crowe's embarrassing attempts to modernise an English folk-hero?"

The answer is: because SW&TH gives every impression of having reached a happy middle ground. Disney already has the market cornered on happy, colourful fairytales, and we know from Robin Hood and Clive Owen's King Arthur that going all-out "historical" (sorry, I can't help but stick some sarcastic air-quotes in there, I'm an asshole) is unpopular. With this film, the trailer gives a darker, more adult hook for Snow White in the form of her new role as a Bourne-esque fugitive and fighter, but we still get to have the more fantastic elements of unicorns, trolls, magic mirrors and so on. Sometimes Kristen Stewart wears a bodice and floor-length skirt that distantly resemble a dirtier version of Snow White's outfit from the Disney cartoon, but when she rides into battle she's wearing armour. Real armour, as opposed to the leather bikini Keira Knightly had to wear when she was playing Pagan Guinevere in the oh-so-historical King Arthur movie. You know that Kristen Stewart's character is Snow White because she looks like Snow White, but you also know she's a warrior because she looks like a warrior as well.
Seems legit. This is basically how everyone dresses in the UK.
Postscript: As of just now, this is the first news headline that comes up when you google Snow White & The Huntsman: "Charlize Theron v Kristen Stewart at Snow White premiere: Hot or Not?" Wow, Internet. I think you just summarised in one sentence everything that's going to be wrong about all the coverage for this movie!


  1. Sed non satiata15 May 2012 at 20:24

    Oh, God. Keira Knightley's costume. How does that even exists?!

  2. Jadedownthedrain15 May 2012 at 22:47

    This is great little piece you have written here! I had the same thought when I googled swath plus an additional*face palm* good to see people have a similar thought path. Have a frolicsome day!

  3. It just now occurred to me that Kiera Knightley's Guinevere would be from 'roundabout Newcastle. That explains her superhuman abilities to wear almost no clothing in cold weather. Huh.

  4. I am embarrassed to say that I saw King Arthur at the cinema. Watching a large Keira wearing a boobless boob tube on screen was..... rather...fascinating. Btw can we talk about how similar Snow White's shield is to Aragon's tree flag thing in LOTR?

  5. It's a bit sad, but literally all I know about that King Arthur movie is that apparently they photoshopped Keira's chest on the poster to make her boobs look bigger. :/ (Or, well, to give her boobs in the first place.) Still didn't make anyone want to see it...

    As for SWatH, it could be good I guess, but I just have a hard time taking any fairytale 'done straight' seriously after reading Neil Gaiman's stuff. (The film of his "Stardust" was a rare example of a good fairytale movie, but it went for the tongue-in-cheek route.)

  6. although stardust IS a fairytale, i'd put it in a slightly different category alongside things like The Princess Bride, because the story itself isn't one that most viewers are guaranteed to know very well already. i think with SW&TH, it seems like there's enough of the sparklier fairytale stuff to leaven out the more gritty stuff -- i mean, it's not "done straight" in the sense that it's trying to be a historical movie about a woman drugging an apple, there are still unicorns and things in it, and charlize theron's castle and costumes are like Cribs: Hogwarts Edition.

    re: king arthur, i don't remember it all that clearly, but i'm pretty sure it was quite mediocre. i remember there being a pertty hilarious scene where someone, like, breaks open a glacier with a spear, though.

  7. lol. when i was writing this i had to google the movie because i thought she was a pict, but it just seemed TOO RIDICULOUS that she could be from north of the wall and wearing a leather bikini. but c'est la vie.


  9. i THINK i did as well. but google tells me it came out in 2004 so that's not too bad because i was basically still a child at that point.

    her shield TOTALLY LOOKS LIKE the white tree of gondor -- in fact, i thought it looked identical when i first saw it??

  10. I am SO EXCITED about this movie for all of the reasons you mention above. SO EXCITED!

  11. I stumbled across your blog while surfing for Avengers news (like so many other fangirls), and I have to say it's wonderfully written and very interesting! I especially love your movie costume posts. I'll definitely be back for more. Thanks!

  12. thank you! :)

  13. The Pict warriors that Kiera Knightlys character was based on actually rode into battle stark naked covered in blue paint.

  14. SOLD!

    Also, Kristen Stewart. I hate Twilight, but always appreciated Bella being constantly swathed in hoodies. And Teen Vogue is my guilty pleasure, so I started warming to her when I noticed she was usually the only teen female role model who actually seems to enjoy wearing trainers. But she gets so much flak, simply because people don't seem to have grasped that actor != character. tl;dr Moar Kristen not being Bella, yes!

  15. The costumes in this movie are SO AMAZING OH DEAR GOD, but I'd love to hear your thoughts once you actually see the movie. I had the same feels as you when watching the trailers, but was horrifically disapointed with Kristen Strewart - not with her acting (because I feel she was doing the best she could with a bad lot), but some of her lines are TERRIBLE. It made me so horribly sad. Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron are both spectacular in it, at that sort of makes up for it. I don't want to say any more, but I'd love to know your thoughts once you've seen the movie.

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  17. If you want a really badass Snow White watch "Once Upon a Time", just the flashback if you don't want to see all of it, in particular "Snow Falls".